Another bright cheerful Spring afternoon, another drab uninspired game of football. City continue to pursue the objective of promotion with the vigour of Mr Blair's government in its quest to prohibit fox hunting. Justin Whittle played well, nobody else did, and the muted Tiger hundreds who showed up to populate the steppes of Brisbane Road's North terrace will have trudged away in the direction of the close season with few, if any, golden memories from this display calculated to sustain their enthusiasm for the future fortunes of our team. Those who stopped at home and fed the garden and watered the dog may have had the best of the afternoon. The local amenities too left much to be desired, with local pubs widely slammed shut on police "advice" (though the remote one we found was great), and - far more grievously - the sublimest of Leyton emporia, "Italia Wigs", just on the left as you walk from tube station to ground, now transformed into a soulless cooker store. Sic transit, y'know.
The lithe Kyle Lightbourne, a dandelion seed in our flesh in the past, was the unlikely choice to inject some punch into our attack, and so, with the Jamaicans excluded, on call for another afternoon of scoreless blanditude were:
Orient, bedecked in their rather unappealing red-and-white Croatia checks, were notable for including rampaging front man Iyseden Christie, a full hand of ten foot javelins in our flesh in too many past encounters, and the home side looked marginally the brighter in the early exchanges. The excellent left back Lockwood (why is he still marooned in this Division?) cut inside Williams with no apparent difficulty and unleashed a powerful drive, which Musselwhite saved to his left, tipping the ball away for a corner which we duly stifled. But this was not intended, and not interpreted, as suggesting either side was up for a carefree torrent of attacking football. Worthwhile moments were few and far between. Our most vivid escapade arrived when Alexander forged through, only to be hauled down by a defender who got a yellow card, which was the very minimum the miscreant deserved. From the resultant free-kick Alexander himself shot against the exterior of the wall, and the ball bounced away for a corner. The plucky EastEnders managed to clear this with some alarms, but we were hardly subjecting them to a blitz.
In fact, Alexander, on his home patch (sort of), was generally bustling about with industry, but he is far short of the incisive, decisive striker who terrorised the Division on a weekly basis through the first half of season 2001/02. His partner, Lightbourne, looked remarkably like an attacker who enjoyed one decent season a long while ago, and has been living on the investment ever since while slowly spiralling downwards through the tiers of English professional football. He looked willing enough. But no threat at all to Orient. Our midfield foursome was - as has been peculiarly commonly the case this season - half competent, half woeful. In the former, more positive bracket, yesterday were Sneekes, whose neat touch on the ball was just about the most appetising feature of our play all afternoon, and Philpott, again tidy and sensible even if his presence in the side is a fundamentally defensive concession, for he is there to protect others and to deny the opposition space in midfield. And then there were Williams and Johnsson. Neither made any worthwhile contribution yesterday and, to be brief in order to be kind, I shall simply suggest that both are, more than most of their team-mates, horribly damaged by the tide of depleted self-confidence that has so conspicuously washed through the team since December. Both Ryan and Julian look desperate to get their caravan booked in Filey and to return in July refreshed and ready to start their City careers again. Or, in the case of Williams, to start his City career.
The later stages of the half saw City enjoying the majority of possession, while Orient aimed to damage us on the break. Ashley Bayes, perennially amiable netminder, prowled his penalty area in front of the travelling support like a jaguar in search of prey. But a hungry predator he would remain. Neither gloveman had anything much to do. And then it was half-time.
You might want to stop reading now. I mean, I would like to promise you tales of thrilling moments of achingly brilliant footballing wizardry. But it's not going to happen. As in rather too many matches staged between these two teams at Brisbane Road since the epic 5-4 Tiger victory in the Autumn of 1984, twists in the tale had been ironed out in advance. It's as if that never-to-be-forgotten comeback win (4-1 down with 22 minutes to go: we still won, younger readers) has to be paid for by a whole swag bag of subsequent dismal ninety minutes. Well, so be it: 1984 was worth it. And the second half of yesterday's match was, like the first half, another down-payment on past mysticism.
Although Orient almost began the second period with a goal. One of theirs muscled his way through, fending off the attentions of Mark Greaves, and poked the ball past Musselwhite. The referee disallowed the "goal" and awarded us a free-kick. If this was because he identified a foul, then he was being over-generous to Mark Greaves, who had come off second best in a robust 50/50 struggle. I think, however, the arbitro had spotted a hand-ball. It's more than I did.
Greaves, by now limping, lasted little longer and was replaced by the hapless Holt, who went to left back, freeing Van Blerk to join Whittle in the centre of our defence. The Australian rarely looked positionally comfortable in the middle, but the mighty Justin Whittle helped him through, and Holt managed to avoid embarrassment down the flank. Although it must be confessed that the Tiger clean sheet owed as much to the end-of-season feel to the home side's endeavours as to any steely rigour in our own line-up. The incendiary Christie was replaced by the speedy youngster Ibehre, but Orient have evidently near enough called time on their feeble 2001/02. Still, we were obliged to survive a scare or two. Musselwhite saved a point-blank header with his customary fortitude, and Van Blerk promptly, and quite unaccountably, proceeded to chip the loose ball delicately back a couple of inches over his own bar. Up at the far end, Alexander shot over from some 25 yards, before Lightbourne gave way to the much livelier Caceres, who produced our best attacking moment of a vapid afternoon when he steamed in a thunderous left shot from outside the box, which Bayes beat away in some surprise.
Soon afterwards the umpires removed the bails, we thanked Justin Whittle for being Justin Whittle, and we went home.
Report by: Steve Weatherill